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Shadow & Claw: The First Half of 'The Book of the New Sun' Paperback – Oct 15 1994

4.2 out of 5 stars 137 customer reviews

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  • Shadow & Claw: The First Half of 'The Book of the New Sun'
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  • Sword & Citadel: The Second Half of 'The Book of the New Sun'
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  • The Urth of the New Sun: The sequel to 'The Book of the New Sun'
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Orb Books; 5th edition (Oct. 15 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312890176
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312890179
  • Product Dimensions: 14.6 x 2.9 x 21.2 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 295 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars 137 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #13,644 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

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One of the most acclaimed "science fantasies" ever, Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun is a long, magical novel in four volumes. Shadow & Claw contains the first two: The Shadow of the Torturer and The Claw of the Conciliator, which respectively won the World Fantasy and Nebula Awards.

This is the first-person narrative of Severian, a lowly apprentice torturer blessed and cursed with a photographic memory, whose travels lead him through the marvels of far-future Urth, and who--as revealed near the beginning--eventually becomes his land's sole ruler or Autarch. On the surface it's a colorful story with all the classic ingredients: growing up, adventure, sex, betrayal, murder, exile, battle, monsters, and mysteries to be solved. (Only well into book 2 do we realize what saved Severian's life in chapter 1.) For lovers of literary allusions, they are plenty here: a Dickensian cemetery scene, a torture-engine from Kafka, a wonderful library out of Borges, and familiar fables changed by eons of retelling. Wolfe evokes a chilly sense of time's vastness, with an age-old, much-restored painting of a golden-visored "knight," really an astronaut standing on the moon, and an ancient citadel of metal towers, actually grounded spacecraft. Even the sun is senile and dying, and so Urth needs a new sun.

The Book of the New Sun is almost heartbreakingly good, full of riches and subtleties that improve with each rereading. It is Gene Wolfe's masterpiece. --David Langford,


The Book of the New Sun establishes [Wolfe's] pre-eminence, pure and simple....The Book of the New Sun contains elements of Spenserian allegory, Swiftian satire, Dickensian social consciousness and Wagnerian mythology. Wolfe creates a truly alien social order that the reader comes to experience from within...once into it, there is no stopping.” ―The New York Times Book Review

“Magic stuff...a masterpiece...the best science fiction I've read in years!” ―Ursula K. Le Guin

“Arguably the best piece of literature American science fiction has yet produced.” ―Chicago Sun-Times

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
That's what I can't figure out about this book, and this writer. I'd read books before that I felt were not for me, or that I felt I had not understood. This one, however, left me wondering, "IS there anything to understand?" I like challenging reads, but sometimes there's such a thing as a pointlessly difficult read with no other reason for being difficult than to claim itself a masterpiece. Unfortunately, only very few of such books are actual masterpieces, and this is not one of them.
First, the good points: the main character is definitely very unique and intriguing. Despite his rather odd and disturbing occupation, Wolfe manages to make him strangely compelling. The writing is highly descriptive, detailed and rich, creating a picture of a truly bizarre, fantastic society.
That said, there is no doubt that the story IS original. Yet at the same time, it falls short on so many levels that it would take me about 5 pages to describe in detail. The main character's nature and profession are what makes him so interesting yet, having given us much insight into his past and present, Wolfe all of a sudden disregards those aspects completely just as the story starts getting interesting. He brings in more compelling and well-written characters (Dorcas, Agia, Jonas) in the middle of book one, only to abandon them for no solid reason and with no explanation by the beginning of book two. He makes things happen that seem like they might lead to very interesting plot turns and resolutions, but in the end they only prove to have been completely pointless and unnecessary. All that the reader is left to think is, "huh?" There are enough loose ends in this book to choke and elephant.
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Format: Paperback
The concept of the main character being a torturer is fascinating and is by far the most interesting concept of the book. The first book (Shadow of the Torturer) is actually decent for this reason. Unfortunately the author seems to get bored and entire chapters are taken up with short stories, plays, and other half-assed works. In the second book the narrator states "assume I am continuing to work as a torturer as I travel" and goes on to tell the story in a high fantasy style ignoring the most fascinating parts of the character.
I had just finished China Melville's "Perdito Street Station" and have to say that Gene Wolfe's pretensions are a mockery of writing after reading China's masterful ministrations.
If you want complex worlds try Steven Erikson, if you want artistic style try China Melville. If you want good fiction about executioners you should try to chase down some of Dru Pagliosotti's High Lord Executioner tales (web only). All those works show years of care and effort, while this book had obvious spelling and textural errors. Even the editor had trouble finishing the book to all appearances.
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Format: Paperback
This book is one of the most beautiful writings ever produced in the English language. It is not what I would call an accessible "storytelling" book; Stephen King is the master at writing such novels. This book is beautifully written and complex at every level, from each sentence to the whole story and every image and thought it creates in one's mind. It is also an unforgiving book -- nothing is really explained. But, the book rewards careful reading and re-reading. I enjoy it anew every time I read it. My son has read it several times since he was a teenager and has become enthralled. Without compromising, Wolfe is letting his central character tell a story that takes place in a culture and a physical environment far removed from our own. The reader must struggle to comprehend this alien landscape with only the unfamiliar and idiomatic, but still human, narrative of a single person from this other time in the far future.
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Format: Paperback
If you have found yourself in the same position as I, were time and again you run into typical cliché formulated fantasy and science fiction. Then I feel you will find this novel and its predecessors truly captivating. The novel tells the story of a Severian, an apprentice of the guild of torturers, who through his own mercy becomes an outcast in a world as alien to him as it is to the reader. The series guides Severian through a long a struggle filled journey filled with characters and locations that range from humorous to out right bizarre. Summing up the depth and elegance of Wolfe's creation is something that can only be achieved by reading the novel itself. The language, the intricate story that weaves its web in subtle ways, the philosophy, the mysteries that uncover the identity of the world all bring something new to the table of fantasy. I was truly captivated by this novel and recommend it to any advanced reader. I say advanced because I will admit the language is difficult and from what I read from other reviewers this seems to bother a few people. This is not romp along cheesy fantasy and if that is your ticket I'll suggest you should avoid. Anyone who is looking for something that provokes the mind, and has a bit of rich texture go no further then this novel and its follow up Sword and Citadel.
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